Dennis Bergkamp joined Arsenal in 1995, having endured two mainly frustrating years at Internazionale. In his new book, out on Thursday, he reveals that he considered joining Tottenham because Glenn Hoddle had played for them and that he thought he would stay in London for only a few years. The chapter on Bergkamp joining Arsenal is also a reminder of how different the media landscape was back then as the Dutchman was overjoyed to see the news that he had completed a move to the Gunners … on teletext. This is an edited extract from the book.
In 1995, was there anywhere else you could have gone? Arsenal wasn't as big then as it is now.
There were several options. Germany was in the picture as well, but I just couldn't see myself there. The thought of playing for Bayern, it just … didn't fit. And after Italy, Spain didn't fit either. My mind was set on England. Man United weren't interested and I wasn't going to go to somewhere like Newcastle or Liverpool because of the travelling from Holland. Spurs was mentioned, and that had been Hoddle's team, but even then I considered Arsenal to be a bit above Spurs. I'm not sure why.
The funny thing is, I really didn't know anything about Arsenal's reputation at the time for playing "boring" football [under George Graham]. I'd seen a big article about the club in Voetbal International, the Dutch magazine, and it sounded good. They seemed to have a settled, stable team, with a lot of players of a certain age. I thought it would be easier for me to come into a team like that. I just had a good feeling about them.
They had done well in Europe, too: they'd won the Cup Winners' Cup in 1994 then been in the final again the following year. For clubs in Holland, doing well in Europe meant getting past the quarter-finals. So I thought: "Yeah, it's a big club, it's in London, and it's the way I want to play football. And Highbury is known for being a nice ground as well. Let's see what happens." I never expected to be there 11 years! Not at all! To tell you the truth, when I was at Inter I was thinking of playing until I was about 28 and then going back to Holland. Just take a few years in England … But it all changed once I was in London.
At the end of June I went with my wife to England for the first time, in the Channel Tunnel. When I arrived the contract talks were still going on, and the medical had to be done. We stayed in the Four Seasons hotel and Gary Lewin [the Arsenal chief physio] picked us up and took us to the stadium. He was unbelievable the way he helped me in my first season. He sorted out everything, he was always friendly, jolly and funny, and he knew everything about the club. And then I saw Highbury for the first time … wow! This was football! I loved all the houses around it, then you turn the corner and there's the stadium! That's not Dutch, nor Italian; you don't see it in Europe. It's just typically English. And you see the Marble Halls of course.
So I remember coming up the stairs and then I met my agent. My brother Wim was there as well. And I saw in the room two people from Inter who were finalising the deal. It struck me: "I'm a thing you buy and sell. I'm a commodity." It was a strange feeling. Then I go up the stairs and I hear there's probably going to be a press conference. They are just talking about money and this and that. And then that was all done, and they opened the doors to the pitch. Nature! The grass! It was perfect. As soon as I saw the pitch, I thought: "This is fantastic!"
After the press conference we get back to the hotel. The deal's done, and we're in our room relaxing. As normal, I look up the sports headlines on teletext. We get the BBC in Holland so I know about Ceefax. I call up Page 301 and I'm shocked. The first two lines are in huge letters: "BERGKAMP JOINS ARSENAL." For the first time it hits me: "Woah! What's going on here?" I'm in this big country. I'm in London. I'm in this huge strange city where they drive on the left and … I'm on teletext. Me! They must rate me here, they still expect me to be like Van Basten or Gullit. I don't think of myself like that. Quickly, I go to Page 302, the football page, and there it is in more detail: "DUTCH STRIKER GOES FOR £7.5 MILLION." It was the first time it really hit what people expected of me. I looked at Henrita: "This is amazing! I have to step up."
After Italy I had so many doubts. So many. Even when I played well, I always had to defend myself. And now you are in a hotel room and you see that. Physically it does something to you.
Through your spine you get a feeling and you get a little bit emotional as well. And you look at your wife and your wife looks at you and you feel: "Wow, this is unbelievable!"
(c) 2013 by Dennis Bergkamp. Extracted from STILLNESS AND SPEED by Dennis Bergkamp to be published by Simon & Schuster UK Ltd at £20 on Thursday
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